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Daily Howler: Character problem are only for Dems. The pattern is clear--and expanding
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A GROWING PATTERN! Character problem are only for Dems. The pattern is clear—and expanding: // link // print // previous // next //

DEAN OF THE NATION’S LEAST COMPETENT COHORT: Nothing affects their preferred story-lines. No new information is relevant. And let’s be clear: No other professional cohort could get away with this degree of incompetence.

We refer, of course, to David Broder’s column in Sunday’s Washington Post. Broder is, by group assessment, “the dean of Washington pundits.”

Background: On August 9, Michael Bloomberg told Dan Rather than no, he won’t be running for president. The interview aired on HDTV this past Thursday night, but Bloomberg’s statements have been widely discussed since Rather disclosed what the mayor had said on the August 19 Chris Matthews Show. Indeed, the transcript of Bloomberg’s interview has been available since Friday, August 17. For the record, here’s what Bloomberg told Rather:
RATHER (8/9/07): Well, let's get it out of the way. Are you running for president?


RATHER: Are you going to run for president?


RATHER: Any circumstances in which you would?

BLOOMBERG: Oh, I don't know. Any—the answer—if I don't say no categorically you'll then read something into it. The answer is no.
Bloomberg’s statement was noted, at the start of last week, by news orgs around the world. Headline in the Xinhua General News Service: “New York mayor smashes speculation about White House bid.”

But when it comes to our least competent cohort, nothing affects their preferred story-lines. And the group is immune to new information. Yesterday, Broder mused, for the three thousandth time, about how marvelous it would be if Bloomberg and Chuck Hagel ran together. And the Pundit Dean didn’t breathe a word about what Bloomberg had said to Dan Rather.

Bloomberg said he wasn’t running. One week later, to all appearances, Broder still hadn’t heard.

Did Broder know what Bloomberg had said? It’s always possible that he didn’t. For one thing, this is vacation time in DC—and Broder’s column had the stink of work which was turned in early. In short, it’s possible that Broder prepared this chestnut a week ago, then high-tailed it up to Lake Michigan. Under this theory, the Post itself just looks that much worse. Under this theory, the editor who waved Broder’s column into print hadn’t heard what Bloomberg said either.

We’re all accustomed to analyzing the press corps’ work in terms of bias. That’s an important type of discussion, but it sometimes obscures the astounding incompetence of this least-capable cohort. And let’s be clear: The mainstream press can survive such blunders because they alone, among American professions, control what is written about themselves. In other professions, clownish incompetence gets discussed in the press. But when the press corps bumbles in its time-honored ways, nary a word is spoken.

Final question: What should we liberals and Democrats do when a group this inept this undermines our interests? As we said last week, libs and Dems are astoundingly bad at analyzing modern presspolitics. We’ll continues discussing that topic this week. Tomorrow, we’ll return to Hardball’s gruesome work about Michelle Obama.

How should our spokespersons play this game? If we don’t develop better strategies, we’re going to lose next year’s election. Remember the rule which now drives our presspolitics: Character problems are only for Democrats! Sad to say: We’ll put our money on Rudy right now after watching the way we fight back.

REWRITING OBAMA, CONTINUED: Which of the major Democratic hopefuls has the best foreign policy instincts? On that, we have no particular view.

But how does the press corps rewrite events to produce the type of story it likes? In Saturday’s Post, Alec MacGillis provided the latest example.

Zbigniew Brzezinski had endorsed Obama, during an interview with Al Hunt. As he reported Brzezinski’s endorsement, MacGillis gave this account of the trivial flap which emerged from last month’s YouTube debate:
MACGILLIS (8/25/07): [Brzezinski] also defended Obama's position in his recent foreign policy tiff with Clinton, in which she called him "naive" for saying he would be willing to meet with the leaders of U.S. antagonists such as Iran and Venezuela. "What's the hang-up about negotiating with the Syrians or with the Iranians?" Brzezinski said. "What it in effect means," he said, is "that you only talk to people who agree with you."
As Patrick Healy did last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/21/07), MacGillis rewrote what Obama had said in that utterly trivial “tiff.”

Did Clinton call Obama naive “for saying he would be willing to meet with the leaders of U.S. antagonists such as Iran and Venezuela?” Sorry—that just doesn’t do it. In fact, Obama made a substantially different statement; he said he’d be willing to meet with the leaders of the five countries in question in his first year in office, “without preconditions.” None of this was worth the focus it has received from the conflict-starved press. But it’s easy to report what Obama said. Increasingly, it seems that major “reporters” just don’t want to do it.

For the record, MacGillis also took some liberties in his account of Brzezinski’s statements. Was Brzezinski “defend[ing] Obama's position”—and criticizing Clinton—when he made the statements MacGillis quotes in the passage above? We’d have to say that’s just not clear. Let’s consider the full exchange from which MacGillis took his quotes.

Below, we see the relevant Q-and-A between Hunt and Brzezinski. In his question, Hunt seems to refer to the Obama-Clinton dispute—but he does so rather obliquely. In his reply, Brzezinski does criticize someone by name. But it’s Condoleezza Rice he criticizes, not Hillary Clinton:
HUNT (8/24/07) And how about the other argument that whether you—the issue of talking to bad guys, the Iranians, North Koreans, and Hugo Chavez? Do you believe that direct talks with unsavory characters rewards bad behavior or is just simply realpolitik?

BRZEZINSKI: I can’t understand people who claim that that is the case because what it in effect means that you only talk to people who agree with you. We negotiated with the Soviets throughout the years of the Cold War when there was always the possibility of a nuclear war with them. We negotiated with the Chinese. More recently, we have negotiated with the North Koreans. So what’s the hang-up about negotiating with the Syrians or with the Iranians and so forth? What Condi Rice says on this subject, mainly that we can’t negotiate with them because they don’t agree with us, is sheer nonsense. It’s really the reputation, the abandonment of intelligent diplomacy.
Was Brzezinski referring to Clinton here? It’s quite unclear. After all, Clinton hasn’t said that she would “only talk to people who agree with [her];” she only said she wouldn’t guarantee a first-year meeting, without preconditions, with leaders like Kim Jong-il. (Let’s state the obvious—President Obama won’t hold such meetings either.) But Brzezinski did criticize someone by name: “Condi Rice,” who is talking “sheer nonsense.” Unless you read the Post, that is—in which case, he was smacking down Clinton.

Here again, we see familiar conduct from our least professional professional cohort. A string of scribes have sanded the edges off Obama’s statement at the YouTube debate. This is an utterly trivial “tiff.” But it’s easy to report what Obama said. Last week, Healy and MacGillis seemed to prefer a different approach.

Special report: Only Dems!

BE SURE TO READ EACH INSTALLMENT: In the culture of the modern press corps, only Dems can have character problems! Read each thrilling installment:
PART 1: Only Dems can have character problems. Reactions to Saint Rudy prove it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/21/07.

PART 2: The press corps invented delusional lying by Gore. Rudy is actually doing it. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/07.

PART 3: How wildly did Rudy overstate? Consider those 29 hours. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/24/07.
Only Dems can have character problems! In Part 4, we see the way this rule extends to all such problems.

PART 4—A GROWING PATTERN: Remember: In the culture of the modern press corps, only Dems can have “character problem.” This pattern has become increasingly clear in the past dozen years, but the current treatment of Candidate Giuliani is beginning to border on farce. In 1999 and 2000, the mainstream press corps had a fit about the embellishments of Candidate Gore—“embellishments” the press corps itself had made up! But Candidate’s Rudy’s real embellishments pass by with barely a comment.

Last week, we considered Giuliani’s groaning misstatements about his role as Ground Zero Hero—misstatements which the pundit corps have chosen to overlook. And then, on Saturday, it happened again; the New York Times ran another front-page report about the Republican hopeful’s misstatements. But if history is a guide, pundits will ignore this latest groaner.

Let’s make sure we understand the type of conduct which is A-OK—as long as Republicans do it.

Quick breakdown: When Giuliani became mayor in 1994, he inherited a $2.3 billion deficit from the outgoing mayor, David Dinkins. When he left office eight years later, he left a $4.8 billion deficit for his successor, Michael Bloomberg. It’s hard to believe that a White House hopeful could turn that into a bragging point. But Giuliani’s campaign has done it! On the front page of Saturday’s Times, Michael Cooper describes one of Rudy’s radio ads—and offers a mild rebuke:
COOPER (8/25/07): Rudolph W. Giuliani has been broadcasting radio advertisements in Iowa and other states far from the city he once led stating that as mayor of New York, he ''turned a $2.3 billion deficit into a multibillion dollar surplus.''

The assertion, which Mr. Giuliani has repeated on the trail as he has promoted his fiscal conservatism, is somewhat misleading, independent fiscal monitors said. In fact, Mr. Giuliani left his successor, Michael R. Bloomberg, with a bigger deficit than the one Mr. Giuliani had to deal with when he arrived in 1994. And that deficit would have been large even if the city had not been attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

''He inherited a gap, and he left a gap for his successor,'' Ronnie Lowenstein, the director of the city's Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency that monitors the city budget, said of Mr. Giuliani. ''The city was budgeting as though the good times were not going to end, but sooner or later they always do.''

The Giuliani campaign defended the advertisement, noting that it merely states that Mr. Giuliani created a multibillion-dollar surplus, not that he passed one on to his successor.
In short, Giuliani ran surpluses for a time—then lapsed back into deficits. But Giuliani is running radio ads which tout his vast success in this area. In another bit of restrained understatement, the Times suggests that these radio ads are “somewhat misleading.”

Let’s be clear: Cooper has done good reporting here—like his colleague, Mark Buettner, who reported the vast overstatements of our brilliant Ground Zero Hero (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/24/07). What’s at issue is the pundit corps’ silence about these matters—especially when we let our minds drift back to the treatment of Candidate Gore. Starting in March 1999, Gore was trashed as a liar—as a “serial exaggerator”—on the basis of three goony “lies” which the press corps itself had invented. Readers, Al Gore said he invented the Internet! For two solid years, the mainstream press corps beat loud drums, deeply troubled by Gore’s wild lying. Last year, the Post’s Michael Grunwald finally copped: Al Gore never said he invented the Net! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/25/06.) But the Post and the Times had said different, for two solid years. In the process, they sent Bush to the White House.

Gore was trashed for lies he didn’t commit. Today, the pundit corps is silent in the face of real overstatements. Explanation? Only Dems can have character problems! It’s one of the corps’ deep beliefs.

Indeed, this pattern has emerged, quite clearly, over the past dozen years. Gore was turned into the world’s biggest liar—but Giuliani’s gross overstatements are ignored. But then, the pattern hardly stops there. Every type of character problem seems to be reserved for Dens only:
Item: Bill Clinton’s sex life is constantly flogged—but Giuliani’s weird sexual conduct, while serving as mayor, is being politely ignored.

Item: Gore and Kerry were trashed as hopeless reinventers and flip-floppers—but Romney, McCain and Giuliani are treated respectfully on this score.
Question: Has anyone ever reinvented himself the way Romney has in the past year? By normal standards, the conduct is laughable. But on this weekend’s Russert program, the Post’s Chris Cillizza took a quite different approach. In Cillizza’s view, it’s to Romney’s credit when he “paints himself as a conservative”—when he reinvents his most basic views. Watch as Cillizza, again and again, praises Romney’s reinventing:
RUSSERT (8/25/07): With their official government positions as mayor of New York City and governor of Massachusetts, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney—is there any difference in their positions on abortion, gay rights, gun control, immigration, stem cell research? From their official governing positions?

CILLIZZA: I think there is a level of difference on them. I think that Mitt Romney, if you look at it in a vacuum, was more conservative on those issues than Rudy Giuliani was. That said, he's nowhere near as conservative as he is painting himself to be. I mean, the reality is, is Mitt Romney said he had stood up against, you know, attempts to restrict abortion, stood up against attempts to broaden gay rights. You know, you can see a way in which he can color that, and he's using, as Chuck mentioned, this immigration issue that he had—he has stood up for it. Well, again, it really went to being a he said/he said. Giuliani's campaign pushes back and says, “Well, no, not really, if you look at the record here.”

Mitt Romney understood very early on, to his credit, that the only way to win the race, from his perspective, was he needed to become the conservative candidate in this race come heck or high water, frankly, is that he knew he was going to have to answer for some of these things, like the fact that he said he would be better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy. Thank you, YouTube, for reminding us of that one. But I think he recognized early on, even when we thought John McCain was the front-runner, he recognized this was his path to the nomination. And he has, to his credit, I think, insulated himself somewhat from that.

The problem is, and Chuck points this out, is both Thompson and Romney are, I believe, somewhat flawed messengers as the socially conservative candidate. Neither of them have a squeaky clean, pure white record on this. And so do people believe them over believing Rudy Giuliani, who said, “Yes, look, I do—I do support a woman's right to choose. I'm unapologetic about that.” It's not as though this is Gary Bauer or Alan Keyes or someone who is an iconic feature in the social conservative movement launching these attacks. These are both flawed people who I think voters have questions, “Are they really one of us anyway?” And so I think Giuliani has really benefitted from that to this point.
Romney is praised for his reinventions—it’s to his credit! Indeed, Romney hasn’t “reinvented himself.” No, it’s just that he “doesn’t have a squeaky clean, pure white record on this.”

If we consider the earlier trashing of Gore and Kerry, Cillizza’s approach here is quite remarkable. But as we’ve noted in the past, Cillizza—a rising young media star—is a faithful slave to his cohort’s dogmas. Indeed, after beating the bushes in ludicrous ways to “prove” that Gore was a reinventer, the pundit corps has been quite mild with the flips and reinventions of the GOP Three. In May, The Hill’s A. O. Stoddard nicely captured the way the press has approached this (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/07):
STODDARD (5/2/07): You know, I really think this is not a big deal. I think that [Romney] is entitled to his quirky tastes. I think that he is a habitual flip-flopper, and has religious conversions on everything that comes out of his mouth, and he changes his mind so much now that people don’t even notice. He is on campaign finance reform right now. He is after everyone in the Washington political back-scratching class that wrote McCain-Feingold.
In the spring of 2000, the press corps played the Total Fool, “proving” that Gore was involved in endless, troubling reinventions (link below). With Romney? We think Stoddard captured the attitude perfectly: “He changes his mind so much now that people don’t even notice.”

For ourselves, we’d put that a slightly different way. Within the culture of the modern press corps, only Dems can have character problems! By definition, only Dems can be flippers, or liars, or disturbing philanderers. In past campaigns, the mainstream press corps turned itself inside out, pretending that Gore and Kerry had character problems. But when Giuliani and Romney really do commit the relevant transactions, “people don’t even notice.” Stoddard expressed the problem perfectly. Question: What should libs and Dems do?

When our pundits return from their hard-earned vacations, will they trash Rudy’s serial lying? If you think that will happen, you’re living on Mars. Tomorrow: How we react.

TOMORROW—PART 5: To this day, many libs and Dems just can’t seem to grasp the basics of modern presspolitics.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In the spring of 2000, the press corps played the Total Fool, pretending that Gore was “reinventing.” No claim was too utterly stupid to cite. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/19/02, with links to previous work.